“And we only a hundred thousand. We’re whittling them down,” answered Lanstron.
“Whittling them down! What a ghastly expression!” she gasped. “You are as bad as Westerling and I am worse than either of you! I—I announced the four hundred thousand as if they were a score—a score in a game in our favor. I am helping, Lanny? All my sacrifice isn’t for nothing?” she asked for the hundredth time.
“Immeasurably. You have saved us many lives!” he replied.
“And cost them many?” she asked.
“Yes, Marta, no doubt,” he admitted; “but no more than they would have lost in the end. It is only the mounting up of their casualties that can end the war. Thus the lesson must be taught.”
“And I can be of most help when the attack on the main defence is begun?”
“And when Westerling finds that my information is false about Engadir—then—”
She had never put the question to him in this way before. What would Westerling do if he found her out?
“My God, Marta!” he exclaimed. “If I’d had any sense I would have thought of that in the beginning and torn out the ’phone! I’ve been mad, mad with the one thought of the nation—inhuman in my greedy patriotism. I will not let you go any further!”
It was a new thing for her to be rallying him; yet this she did as the strange effect of his protest on the abnormal sensibilities that her acting had developed.
“Thinking of me—little me!” she called back. “Of one person’s comfort when hundreds of thousands of other women are in terror; when the destiny of millions is at stake! Lanny, you are in a blue funk!” and she was laughing forcedly and hectically. “I’m going on—going on like one in a trance who can’t stop if he would. It’s all right, Lanny. I undertook the task myself. I must see it through!”
After she had hung up the receiver her buoyancy vanished. She leaned against the wall of the tunnel weakly. Yes, what if she were found out? She was thinking of the possibility seriously for the first time. Yet, for only a moment did she dwell upon it before she dismissed it in sudden reaction.
“No matter what they do to me or what becomes of me!” she thought. “I’m a lost soul, anyway. The thing is to serve as long as I can—and then I don’t care!”
THUMBS DOWN FOR BOUCHARD
Haggard and at bay, Bouchard faced the circle of frowns around the polished expanse of that precious heirloom, the dining-room table of the Gallands. The dreaded reckoning of the apprehensions which kept him restlessly awake at night had come at the next staff council after the fall of the Twin Boulder Redoubt. With the last approach to the main line of defence cleared, one chapter of the war was finished. But the officers did not manifest the elation that the occasion called for, which is not saying that they were discouraged. They had no doubt that eventually the Grays would dictate peace in the Browns’ capital. Exactly stated, their mood was one of repressed professional irritation. Not until the third attempt was Twin Boulder Redoubt taken. As far as results were concerned, the nicely planned first assault might have been a stroke of strategy by the Browns to drive the Grays into an impassable fire zone.